Blasphemy referendum

 

Sir, – Colum Kenny claims that “blasphemy is not a problem in Ireland” (“Blasphemy referendum a waste of time and money”, Opinion & Analysis, October 9th).

It may not be a problem now in Ireland but it is a problem for Ireland because our constitutional prohibition of blasphemy is used by Pakistan to help justify its own Sharia-based blasphemy laws.

Since 1986 more than 1,000 Pakistanis have been accused of blasphemy, with almost 50 per cent of the cases involving Christians, Hindus, the Ahmadi Muslim sect and other minorities. The most infamous case is that of Asia Bibi, a Catholic mother-of-five who has spent over eight years in horrific conditions awaiting execution after being convicted on trumped up charges of blasphemy. Another tragic case involves Shagufta Kauser and her wheelchair-using husband Shafqat Emmanuel.

Despite being illiterate, they are both awaiting execution for supposedly sending a blasphemous text to a Muslim cleric.

I would ask anyone with a shred of conscience to support the removal of blasphemy from the Constitution. – Yours, etc,

KARL MARTIN,

Bayside,

Dublin 13.

Sir, – Blasphemy, properly defined, is the intentional insult of a recognised deity or sacred object. This can be offensive and provocative to the adherents to various religions but that is not a good enough reason, in itself, for a constitutional prohibition of blasphemy.

Dr Colum Kenny describes the referendum as “virtue signalling”, now a rather tired phrase beloved of conservatives to describe a self-worthy expression of liberal sentiment. He is critical that the Constitution is not to be amended to include a constitutional prohibition of incitement of religious hatred. Of course, the topic of incitement to religious hatred addresses not the topic of respect for a deity, the subject matter of blasphemy, but rather respect for the adherents of a religion. Religiously motivated hatred of people is a topic separate to blasphemy.

It is better that our Constitution be a positive document and that our Constitution avoids the past error of addressing matters which are more appropriate to be addressed by statutory criminal law. For example, incitement to religious hatred is already addressed in the Prohibition of Incitement to Hatred Act 1989. That legislation deserves now to be reviewed in the connect of social media and other developments since 1989 but that does not require a constitutional provision or amendment. Criminal offences do not require to be constitutionally mandated.

What reasons are there for retaining this inactive constitutional prohibition of blasphemy? I see none. For that reason I shall be voting Yes.

Retention would require the Oireachtas to retain the unnecessary and absurd blasphemy offence in the Defamation Act 2009. This poses the risk, however remote, of a silly but damaging prosecution for public criticism of certain religious dogmas. For that reason also, I shall be voting Yes. – Yours, etc,

ANTHONY LAYNG,

Dublin 4.